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Bleeding Kansas

Jump to Topeka | Lawrence Area | Osawatomie | Pleasanton Area | Fort Riley | Kansas City Area


Kansas Museum of History
6425 SW Sixth Ave, Topeka KS 66615-1099
 Road map 
    Excellent museum tells the entire story of the state with exhibits on its turbulent antebellum and Civil War history. Items shown include a flag carried by one of William Quantrill’s raiders, one of John Brown’s pikes, and a howitzer used by free-state forces in the 1850s.
   Open Tuesday–Saturday 9 am–5 pm, Sunday 1–5 pm. $8/adult.

Also see the John Steuart Curry murals (including “Tragic Prelude” featuring John Brown) in the Kansas State Capitol Building, 10th and Jackson streets, which is open weekdays.

Lawrence and Area



Lawrence was the center of free-state activity prior to the war and a hated symbol to pro-slavery settlers. On May 21, 1856 a Southern rights mob attacked the town, terrorizing the community, looting homes and burning businesses. This attack apparently angered abolitionist John Brown provoking him to massacre five pro-slavery men at Pottawatomie Creek a few days later. Lawrence again was brutally attacked in 1863 with even worse results. Pro-Southern guerillas led by William Quantrill burned much of the city and killed more than 150 men and boys.

The Lawrence Visitor Center
402 N Second St, Lawrence KS 66044
Road Map
   Wealth of information here about touring area Civil War sites. Be sure to see the 25-minute docudrama “Lawrence: Free State Fortress” about Lawrence’s role in Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War. Also pick up free brochures outlining self-guided tours of Quantrill’s Raid and John Brown-related sites. Download a free audio tour of Quantrill’s Raid.
   Visitor center hours: Monday–Saturday 9 am–5 pm, Sunday 1–5 pm (expanded during the summer).

For more on Lawrence Civil War history see the Watkins Community Museum of History.

Freedom Frontier National Heritage Area
200 W Ninth St, Lawrence KS 66044
Road map
   Visitor center/museum features the sites in the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area and the history of the border war in Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri. Highlight is exhibit on the Kansas-Nebraska Act that led to the conflict. Open Wednesday-Saturday 10 am-4 pm, Sunday 1-4 pm.

Watkins Museum of History
1047 Massachusetts St, Lawrence KS 66044
Road map
   New Lawrence area exhibit includes "Bleeding Kansas" and Civil War sections. Quantrill's 1863 raid gets special attention. Open April-November 10 am-4 pm Tuesday-Saturday (open until 8 pm Thursdays). December-March 10 am-4 pm Tuesday-Saturday. Free.

Baldwin City
(south of Lawrence on Route 56, east of Route 59)

Black Jack
Black Jack Battlefield
163 E 2000th Road, Wellsville KS 66092
(south of Route 56, adjacent to the Robert Hall Pearson Park, which is east of Baldwin City)
 Road map 
   This is the site of the June 2, 1856, Battle of Black Jack east of Baldwin City near Lawrence. Forces under radical abolitionist John Brown attacked a camp of pro-slavery men under Henry Clay Pate. In a brief fight, Brown forced the surrender of Pate’s men.
   A park with a self-guided trail is open dawn–dusk. See for a virtual tour, maps and a copy of the trail guide brochure. Free guided tours are offered Saturday and Sunday in season. See website for dates.

(between Lawrence and Topeka north of Route 40)


Constitution Hall State Historic Site
319 Elmore, Lecompton KS 66050
 Road map 
Lecompton   This is a great place for an on-the-spot education about the political struggle for Kanasas in the 1850s. Territorial laws passed by the pro-slavery legislature were enforced from here, inflaming free-state passions. In the fall of 1857 prior to statehood, the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitutional Convention met in the second floor assembly room to adopt a constitution. That document never was adopted at the national level and, after the 1857 election, a free-state legislature met in the same room and began work on a free-state constitution. The site features restored rooms, the Lecompton Constitution, and other exhibits relating to the Kansas Territorial government.
    Open Wednesday–Saturday 9 am–5 pm, Sunday 1–5 pm. $3/adult.



John Brown State Historic Site
10th and Main streets, Osawatomie KS 66064
 Road map 
   Radical abolitionist John Brown occasionally stayed in this cabin (relocated to this site and enclosed in a stone building). It was the home of his half-sister and her family (the Adairs). Exhibits here outline Brown's anti-slavery activities in the area, including the famous Pottawatomie Creek massacre in May 1856.
   The cabin is on the site of the Aug 20, 1856, Battle of Osawatomie that pitted Brown and his small contingent against a much larger pro-slavery group. Brown fought here briefly then retreated. Follow the battle with a series of interpretive markers in the park. Brown's sometimes-brutal anti-slavery activities in the area and this battle led to his nickname "Osawatomie" Brown..
    Open Tuesday–Saturday 10 am–5 pm. $3/adult.


Pleasanton Area

Marais des Cygnes Massacre site
Located 6 miles north of Pleasanton. Directions: U.S. 69; turn east and drive 3 miles on K-52; turn left on Young Road; turn right on 1700 Road.
Road map
   On May 19, 1858, a gang of pro-slavery men shot to death five unarmed free-state men in this tree-lined ravine, provoking nationwide outrage. John Brown built a “fort” on the site to help defend free-soil citizens from other such depredations. Interpretive signs at the site explain the event.
Open dawn-dusk. Free.

See also the nearby Mine Creek battlefield.


Fort Riley

First Territorial Capitol State Historic Site
Building 693, Huebner Road on the Fort Riley Military Base
785-784-5535 or 785-238-1666
   Most of the territorial legislators who met here in July 1855 were pro-slavery, elected in what most call a “bogus” election with the help of Missourians who crossed the border to vote. The stone building they met in was unfinished at the time.
    Open Saturday–Sunday 1–5 pm (April-October). $2 donation.

Kansas City

Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site
3403 W 53rd St, Mission KS 66205
 Road map 
   After adjourning from Fort Riley in 1855, the first territorial legislature met here and began passing what became known as “bogus laws” upholding slavery in the territory. Exhibits tell that story and many more in the history of the site.
    Open Wednesday–Saturday 9 am–5 pm. $5/adult.

Links to websites of Kansas places: Kansas Links